Conditions today could not have been better for winter walking. Clear skies and a chill in the air meant for a frosty start which is always good to encourage a quick warm up! I started my Sussex Border Path loop today at Rudgwick, a village that I skirted last time out by walking along the Downs Link path. It was tempting to reprise a lot of that section of the walk, but I resisted the temptation to walk too much of it. I parked on the roadside in the village fairly close to the church and headed up to a footpath opposite the Kings Head public house. I left the car listening to the first couple of games of the Australian Open Tennis semi-final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.I vowed to keep an eye on the match on my mobile phone on the way round. Heresy I know but I was intrigued to see how it went.
Any thoughts of easy conditions created by the frost were soon dashed as there was enough warmth in the air to have melted the top surface of the path and immediately I knew that despite the benign weather conditions it would not be easy underfoot all day. A slick and greasy surface suggested that I would become a mud monster by the time I got back! I crossed a couple of fields and a wooded stream valley before coming to the old railway once again just south of Baynards Tunnel. To my surprise I saw that a lot of vegetation had been removed since my visit three weeks earlier and the view to the tunnel was almost unobstructed from some distance away.
As with the last time I came along here there was a lot of bird activity in the trees, with much twittering birdsong in the air. I passed a small group of pensioners that looked like they were returning from their early morning dog walk. It is unusual for me to meet people on weekday walks, but they were a lot friendlier than most people I encounter and I chatted to them for a short while. Surprisingly perhaps these were the only walkers I encountered all day!
Above the tunnel I rejoined the official Sussex Border Path. This skirted along the side of a field with a view across the Surrey Hills to the north and a still functioning brickworks to the south. Brick works used to be a major feature of Sussex industry but most of the works I remember as a boy are now long since closed. Although still in use, there wasn’t much activity today though so I didn’t linger too long.
Soon enough I was back in Rudgwick after my little loop to position myself where I had left the path three weeks earlier. I took the opportunity to have a good look around the churchyard at the 13th Century church. Despite the fact that we are in the middle of winter there was plenty of colour in the churchyard with a bush sporting some very red berries at one end and the first flush of daffodils at the other. This is testament to the largely mild winter that we have so far been having.
Eventually I pushed on from the church and headed eastward along some very attractive estate roads. This was something of a relief as the all weather surfacing wasn’t as hard as a road, but did give some welcome respite from the mud. The light in the trees above really caught my eye, especially the silver birch trees which look so good in this winter weather. It gave me the opportunity to play further with the camera and I experimented a lot with bokeh shots, with mixed results. I am beginning to understand the limitations of the camera and although it does take some really good quality shots, I am still not quite convinced that it offers such a significant improvement on the compact, when the extra bulk is considered. I shall probably end up taking both cameras – probably not the best idea but it should give me a better range all round.
There were quite a few small things that I could focus on in the otherwise brown and green landscape. Somehow rosehips suddenly take on extra significance and even lichen can add some cheery colour to the otherwise drab and slumbering vegetation. After all the woodland walking of previous sections this part was remarkably open and views across to the Surrey Hills were almost uninterrupted for quite some time. Even the couple of farms that I passed, at Bury St Austen’s and Ridge Farm were remarkably clean and tidy; quite the contrast to previous sections of this tour of Sussex.
It was through this section that I saw something rather remarkable – a chap mowing the lawn! I have never seen this on a January day before. I was so surprised that I remarked to the chap doing the work and he advised me that if he didn’t his lawn was growing at such a rate that it would be impossible to do by mid-February. Remarkable! It just goes to show what mild weather we have had this winter.
Eventually I came to a busy road at Honeywood House. I passed the rather splendid little lodge house and passed through what could be described as the tradesman’s entrance, for the path took a discrete line along the back of the estate. I think it now serves as a nursing home, although not all of the buildings are in use. Nevertheless given the architecture of even the outbuildings I would say that this was probably once a grand estate. The path slipped by the houses almost unnoticed and I plunged into the woods.
The woods here were fully of fluffy mosses, slivery branches of trees glowing in the sunlight above and a straightish track, possibly once an estate road. The woods were very active with singing birds and the loud knockings of woodpeckers. Yet try as I might I saw virtually none of these birds, save for one small blue tit high up in the branches beyond the reach of my camera! I came out at yet another lodge house, this one slightly grander than the other end of the estate. The owner was in his garage tinkering with his vintage motorbikes. I thought better of intruding on his privacy and pushed on without bothering or taking any pictures of him. His motorbikes were exquisite though – I was tempted for a moment!
At Monks Lane I took a sharp right and wandered along the road through the middle of hedged in fields. Behind me was the very substantial house of Monks, yet another example of fine country living for the uber-rich. Not sure that I would ever really feel comfortable living in such a large house, although I do enjoy the architecture of such places. A little further on at Monks Farm I was greeted by a very loud barking dog – not the usual guard dog but a big fluffy haired black one! He was a nuisance as no-one seemed to take any notice of him but me and I wanted to linger for a minute so I could check my route!
At Monks Farm I left the official route. To be honest the mud was getting me down a bit and although I was enjoying the fresh winter air, the constant sliding and picking my way through puddles was not enjoyable. I plotted a route that took me as close as possible to Stane Street, the ancient Roman Road that used to run between Noviomagus (Chichester) and Londinium (London) and now largely under the A29 (apart from this short section in North Sussex).
I went from Monks Farm to Charmans Farm, a rather interesting farm although surprisingly little human activity. The farm was full of cattle cooped up in barns, although to be fair they didn’t look unhappy. I am sure a warm barn is preferable to a muddy field anyway on a cold winter day. A few of them looked up as I went by, probably wondering if I was there to feed them. Alongside the farm was an enormous pile of tyres, which I subsequently learned were not there because of some kleptomania issue, but used to keep the tarpaulins covering the silage outside weighted down.
A couple of muddy fields later and a short stretch of woodland surrounding a small stream and I entered what I can honestly say is one of the biggest fields I have ever seen in my home county. The path took me on a route all the way round, probably the best part of half a mile! At the far end I entered the small hamlet of Rowhook. This small place was filled with the pungent smell of wood smoke. The road into the village had the cheery sight of a small bed of purple crocuses. I guess spring is not that far away! The pub opposite, the Chequers, had a rather unusual looking corrugated metal outbuilding and was very whitewashed. Sadly no decent looking pub sign, but the place otherwise looked in rude health which was good to see for such an out of the way place.
I was back on Stane Street briefly and passed by perhaps the most incognito trig point I have ever seen, lurking beyond a thicket of vegetation at the side of a field next to the path. Seeing anything from that point would no longer be easy and I am guessing it hasn’t been used for its primary purpose for some considerable time. I’m not even sure it would be ripe for adoption in that location.
At the intriguingly named Burnt House I took a sharp right to head off through Roman Wood on a straight track that started out wide and true and got increasingly narrow and overgrown as I proceeded. The woods were strangely silent now too – removing much of the enjoyment from the walk. I was glad to eventually reach the lake at the far end. This is now a fishing haunt although the map suggests that an ironworks would have been located at the far end. There aren’t too many furnace ponds that are so readily identified as being associated with the 17th Century iron industry but this must have been one of the more important ones.
The walk through the subsequent part of the woods couldn’t have been more different to the section before the lake. This was a light and airy woodland, with little undergrowth and even plenty of birdlife! It made for a very enjoyable last section of walking and I was pleased to get back to Rudgwick. I got back to the car to hear the last game of the tennis match, remarkably still going on five hours after I had left it. Inevitably perhaps, Murray lost but he gave his opponent a hell of a match.
This was a section of the Border Path and loop that would perhaps have been more enjoyable when conditions underfoot are a little friendlier. Yet, even on a day like this there is much to commend this part of Sussex. Plenty of history, no crowds of people and the feeling of nature going on all around you. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time!